AWC - Funded Research

Improving yield, yield stability and Grade protection in Western Canadian Spring and Durum Wheat Cultivars – An Integrated approach

Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) Wheat Cluster Project

AWC Contribution: $434,854


Over the last 15 years, significant progress has been made at the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at the University of Saskatchewan in the development of high yielding, shorter, stronger-strawed cultivars that meet the needs of evolving crop production practices.  This has been accompanied by improved disease resistance in all classes, and routine development of wheat midge and sawfly resistant cultivars supported by carefully managed disease nurseries and marker assisted breeding.  Although significant progress has been made in breeding for fusarium head blight (FHB) resistance in wheat, continued improvement is required in all classes, particularly in durum wheat where only small improvements were seen in the past 10-15 years. Obviously more emphasis must be placed on genetic strategies to reduce FHB-produced mycotoxins to ensure marketability of Canadian wheat in premium markets.
For this application, we are requesting continued Cluster support for the wheat breeding activities at the CDC.  The new funding will support incremental work and capacity that was developed in the first two Cluster projects.  We propose to work on five wheat classes:  CWRS, CWAD, CPSR/CNHR, and CWHW.  The effort on CWHW wheat will be wound down during the course of this project as we transition resources to work on the evolving CNHR class. Combined, these market classes currently account for nearly 95% of the wheat planted in western Canada. Much of the emphasis will be on CWRS and CWAD, because we believe these two classes will dominate wheat crop acreage in the western prairies for the foreseeable future.

Benefits to producers:

Challenges for Canadian wheat producers include biotic (diseases and insects) and abiotic stresses (climate change and cyclical weather patterns), and market competition both in terms of access to export markets and domestic viability of the crop. Market access is already tenuous because of the high cost of shipping of wheat to international customers.  In addition, research and breeding investments by export competitors further threaten the viability of the Canadian wheat industry.  New cultivars are continually needed to maintain a viable wheat industry in the face of these challenges. 

Virulence changes in pathogen populations (eg. wheat stripe rust) and the continued threat of other biotic agents (eg. FHB and wheat midge) requires continued vigilance.  Changes in food safety standards in both domestic and export markets are a further threat that must be addressed by development of improved cultivars. For example, reduced tolerance levels for mycotoxins such as DON produced by Fusarium spp. is a current issue for all of our wheat quality classes.  The outbreak of FHB in durum wheat in 2016 is a perfect example of a major threat that requires continued investment to develop improved resistance in that class.  Climate change models suggest that much of the western wheat belt will become drier, and that winters are likely to be less severe, which will affect both yield potential and possible new pathogens and insect pests. 
Because producers rely heavily on new genetics, any acceleration of the cycle of crop development to address these challenges will bring significant gains for the entire wheat value chain. We will also develop, validate and apply DNA marker technologies to identify germplasm and breeding lines carrying effective combinations of durable sources of resistance to the rusts, FHB , wheat midge, and wheat stem sawfly that will reduce crop losses and need for fungicides and insecticides. Such cultivars are also suitable for organic or reduced input production systems and would be very beneficial if legislation were introduced to reduce pesticide residues in any market jurisdictions.


Pierre Hucl is currently Professor in the Crop Development Centre (Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan). Hucl joined the CDC in 1990. Current duties encompass the breeding and genetics of spring wheat, alternative wheat and canary seed. Hucl is the developer or co-developer of over 65 varieties of wheat, canaryseed, dry bean, pea and peanut. He is the author or co-author of over 170 refereed papers and more than 100 conference abstracts and presentations.